Kickstarting Your Design Process

A client has checked out your portfolio and is interested in hiring your services. What’s next? Here are some steps to kickstart your design process.


KNOW YOUR CLIENT

Try to find out more from the client before taking on a project. You can roughly tell what the client wants and what the project entails from a text exchange. Be polite, and ask for as much information as possible. You want to leave a good first impression to increase the chances of building a long-lasting relationship with the client.


DESCRIBE YOUR PROCESS

Next, you should describe your design process and give the client a good idea of how you work. A typical process involves reviewing the design brief, doing research, coming up with concepts, and executing the design. Let the client know you will be working closely with them so changes can be made as soon as possible. Doing so reassures the client that you know what you’re doing — and not a scammer looking to run away with the deposit.

As a logo designer, I usually start my design process by coming up with a few initial concepts based on the information provided in the design brief. I’ll then present them and wait for feedback from the client. There will be a lot of communication involved at this stage, so it’s best for both parties to be as responsive as possible. Once the client approves the concept, I will vectorize the design and work out details such as fonts and color schemes.

Every graphic designer has a different way of doing things, so be sure to experiment and find a process that works for you.


AGREE ON PRICE

After getting to know each other better, it’s time to discuss probably the most important detail — price. If you’re offering fixed price packages, feel free to skip this step. If not, then try to ask for the client’s budget first. Having a number to work with allows you to tailor your services and provide a quote that is satisfactory to both parties.

However, some clients don’t have experience working with graphic designers. As such, they aren’t sure how much a design usually costs. In such cases, consider giving them a rough estimate of your rates. Once an agreement is reached, you can then move on to pen a contract.

See also: Pricing Your Services


PENNING THE CONTRACT

Having a contract is very important, especially for a freelance graphic designer. It provides both parties with a legal document stating the expectations for the project, and how problems can be resolved in a fair manner. It also helps you manage changes in scope, in case the client makes demands not in the contract. In short, contracts protect you by filtering out bad clients looking to exploit your services.

See also: Avoiding Bad Clients

Contracts dealing with design work should include job scope, payment terms, project timeline, copyright usage, and deliverables. In addition, you should draft a contract that is straightforward and easily understandable. Because you’re just looking to set clear expectations for all parties involved in a project, there is no need to confuse everyone by filling your contract with all kinds of legal jargon.

Consider using a template and customizing it to fit a particular project. It’s also a good idea to include names instead of generic terms such as ‘designer’ and ‘client’ to make the contract look more personal. If you’re looking for a standard template, the AIGA Standard Form of Agreement for Design Services is a good starting point. Its focus on modularity allows you create customized terms and conditions for different types of projects.

Contrary to popular belief, email can be legally binding when it comes to agreements. It’s enforceable as long as both parties consent to the agreement made. For that, you have to clearly state the terms and conditions before sending them for the client to look over. They will then reply if they accept the ‘contract’ so everything is set in stone.

Let’s discuss the items you should include in the contract.

Job scope

The job scope is basically a reiteration of your design process, but in more formal terms. Here’s an example:

The designer agrees to perform the following responsibilities:

  • Take the design brief to record requirements and needs of the project
  • Think creatively and develop (3 or more) design concepts based on the information provided
  • Prepare rough drafts and present the ideas to the client
  • Conceptualize and execute designs as per feedback
  • Amend final designs to specifications and gain full approval

Timeline

Moving on to more details, the client will want to have a timeline for the project. It’s better to plan for a loose timeline after factoring time to fully complete the job scope, allow the client to digest everything and review the work, while coming up with the number of iterations as agreed upon.

Again, communication is a two-way process. Some clients will take a long time to respond to messages, effectively messing up the timeline. If that happens, you have to be proactive and remind them to get back to you as soon as possible.

In addition, you can offer to prioritize a project with a tight deadline, provided you don’t have anything else lined up. By going the extra mile, you become the freelance graphic designer that clients love, and will always be first in line for future projects.

Payment terms

By now, you should know how to set up payment terms and reduce the risks of nonpayment. A good practice is to divide the project into milestones, and collect a percentage of the full payment once a milestone is reached. In fact, always get a deposit before you begin, so you at least have some form of payment in case the client bails out at the last minute.

See also: Payment Matters

Deliverables

For a project, deliverables usually include the source files and visual copies of the design. Be sure to discuss with the client so you know which file formats to prepare once everything is finalized. Common ones include PSD and AI for source files, and PNG for visual copies.


You have laid the groundwork and got the technicalities out of the way. Now for the fun part — sending the client your design brief and kickstarting the design process.

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